CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Up Snake Creek Without a Paddle

The official news came through in 1948 .The section at Snake Creek was being closed down . A dam was being built at the LaCave Rapids . The River was going to rise so the railway from the dam site upriver to Temiscaming would have to be rebuilt . That meant rail traffic would be stopped on that run until the new rail line was built .

The lines that ran hugging the shore of the River since 1891 were to be moved further up from the River . They would turn north at Snake Creek to a  higher valley that gave a route past Lac Bangs and beyond- a 38 mile diversion-and would not return to the River until it reached Temiscaming . Peacock and McQuigge Ltd were building the Mattawa end because of the specialized work required blasting a way through the granite/gneiss hills . The Temiscaming end was being built by Therrien Construction .

 The CPR line gangs and section men were not going to be needed until after the project was complete . No section houses would exist along the run again . All maintenance would be done out of Mattawa after the new line was completed by a crew assigned to the run . Nothing would be done by the CPR Company until HEPCO turned it over two years from then.

 Dad had some serious decisions to make . Should he quit the CPR and get on with one of the construction crews and try his luck later at getting back on with the Company after the Boom ? That would mean starting from scratch with the most menial of work and losing what he had put in . He had a family now and could not risk not having anything after two years .

 Everyone knew that passengers would find other ways between Mattawa and Temiscaming and that they would most likely not come back in any large numbers after the new line was built . Highway 533 was going to be pushed through the old logging roads and people would be able to drive between the two towns on the Ottawa River- like a great portage now being done inside cars and monstrous trucks on roads and Highways ; not on the backs of men on precarious trails as during the fur trade ; nor road-to-boat access that supplied little places along the River like Des Erables Landing .

 As it turned out when the road was built , people couldn't use it without great risk outside of dumptrucks and logging trucks .The road was too busy with Dam work .  Most car traffic went into North Bay  and up Hwy 63 to Temiscaming - more than double the travel distance . Temiscaming , Quebec became more attached to North Bay , Ontario and less to Mattawa . Old ties and ancients connections were approaching their breaking point .

Another option for Dad was to head to a different section in another location in Ontario or beyond .But he didn't want to pull up his hometown roots and head to entirely new beginnings . He wanted to be near family and friends in a place he knew . Dad finally decided that he would work Mattawa Section . It would be busy with the Dam work so they would accommodate extra section men . The trains would still haul supplies as far as the Dam that were needed in the project . The draw back was that no section house space would be available . Dad and Mum had to move into a small three room attic apartment and wait for better times .

When Mum and Dad took their belongings by train to Mattawa in 1949 , Mum in particular was heartbroken . She had finally found a place where she was as happy as she had been as a child when her mother was alive and all was good with the world . She had begun her own family and was setting down new roots of security and love , only to have them ripped out by the stroke of a pen in some office hundreds of miles away .

The hydro colony built at LaCave housed officials and employees needed in the project. Its positioning away from Mattawa , the temporary work for locals and business for the town did little to mend the harm that people felt had been done . When the colony houses were moved into Mattawa on new foundations after the project , there remained a separation within the social structure of the town . After the dam became automatically controlled downriver there was no need for anyone in Mattawa to run the dam . Access to the shores of the River is prevented by fences now since no one knows when someone far away will let the River flow and it presents an unpredictable danger . No more picnics and fishing at LaCave . 
 As much as Dad wanted to be near Mattawa , it was not a place that Mum wanted to be . Dad's family had not accepted her as she had hoped and she had been treated as an outsider , excluded from conversations and gatherings- always held at arms length . Only Dad's cousin and his wife , who still lived with grandfather Prospere and his wife made her feel welcome and wanted .

In 1952 , all the locals had moved out of the area near the Ottawa River behind LaCave , with all that they could bring with them . When the gap was closed in the new dam , the River deepened and widened all the way upriver to Temiscaming . The water rose to submerge rapids that had existed for 10 000 years and portage trails that had been in use for 8000 .Steamboat landings and existing family homes were engulfed and the railway beds  that hugged the bank of the River sunk into the rising water . Snake Creek section house , Mum's gardens and the store were no more as Lac LaCave was formed to power 'The Otto Holden Generating Station' for the benefit of people no one on this River knew .

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